July 18, 2014

Bubble Wrap

Futuristic wallpaper, greenhouse insulation, or packaging material? Credit: Chrysti / Flickr Creative Commons

Ah, the house of the future. No dust-filled corners here. Gone are the oriental rugs, the velour arm chairs, and the antiques from Great Aunt so-and-so. And all that cheesy paisley wallpaper is nowhere in sight. Instead, three-dimensional plastic clings to the walls.

At least, that was the goal for engineers Al Fielding and Marc Chavannes back in the 1950s, when they fused two shower curtains in a prototype of what they hoped would cling to Jetson-like homes.

Turns out, three-dimensional wallpaper was a flop. And its second planned use — as a greenhouse insulator — also failed to take off.

But the new product, made from a material that was increasingly important in American manufacturing, did end up making it into houses eventually, albeit in a totally different way. One day, while on a plane, Chavannes noticed the soft, cushioning clouds outside his window. And he started to think about a new use for his wallpaper. A use that even helped to distribute the first personal computers.

What now ubiquitous product did Chavannes and Fielding create? Click above to find out.

inventors, historical innovation

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